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Picky Eater? It’s Hereditary!

Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Health, Wellness, & Safety

A recent study at the University of North Carolina found that children’s distrust of new foods can be accounted for by their genes. In fact, a whopping 72% of pickiness appears to be inherited from Mom and Dad.

These findings mimic earlier findings with older children and adults. But the participants in this new study were kids like yours: children between the ages of four and seven.

So. This explains your everyday mealtime hassle quite a bit. However, as researcher Myles Faith explains, “genetics does not equal destiny…. This doesn’t mean that we can’t try to get children to accept new foods.” It just might take a while.

It may take 14 or 15 exposures to a new food before a child accepts it – even longer if he or she is “neophobic,” or cautious of new things. Parents usually don’t give a new food that many tries before giving up on it. (And after 15 tries with a problem food, a child may be older and more adventuresome. As one of my nephews once said of broccoli, “Taste buds change!”) So simply continuing to present new foods and not making too big a deal about it when a child rejects it (again!) is part of the process.

At the same time, it’s important to simply present new foods and not apply too much pressure to try them. A study in 2006 found that preschoolers introduced to new soups ate more of soups they weren’t pressured about and less of those they were strongly encouraged to try.

In addition, the remaining 28% of pickiness is accounted for by what researchers call “environmental factors.” These include mealtime distractions, like the television being on, informal meals instead of sit-down dining, and other upsets. Controlling these may help children eat more at dinner time, even if they still reject some of what they’re served.

While you’re waiting for your child to grow into more reasonable eating patterns, just remember to serve as much variety as she will accept, including lots of fruits and protein, and as few sweets as possible. Eventually, she’ll become more accepting of new foods – or, like Mom or Dad, maybe she won’t!

© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.

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Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Dr. Patricia Anderson is a nationally acclaimed educational psychologist and the author of “Parenting: A Field Guide.” Dr. Anderson is on the Early Childhood faculty at Walden University and she is a Contributing Editor for Advantage4Parents.